Hey, Mr. Songwriter... (Rick Springfield: A Lifetime in Music, Excerpt # 2)

…Early in 1969, the unexpected fan frenzy generated by Zoot’s appearance at an outdoor concert televised on Uptight caught the attention of 0-10 Network television executives.   After Zoot’s unexpected upstaging of headliners The Twilights and established bands such as Iguana, Compulsion, Wild Cherries and Chelsea Set at that show, the group became regulars on the popular program.

The musical world was changing, though.  With the rising popularity of performers like The Who, Cream, Jethro Tull and Jimi Hendrix and the increasing influence of overseas acts like Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Still, Nash & Young, many Australian pop bands found themselves caught in the transition, recording the light pop of the recent past but playing harder, louder, edgier music to live audiences.

Enthusiasm for the pink image was waning, both in the public and in the band itself, and Zoot was feeling ready for a change. The band had been aware of Rick for some time. Beeb Birtles had sung harmonies on “Billie’s Bikey Boys,” an association that Rick says indirectly led to his affiliation with Zoot.

Darryl Cotton had also seen Rick perform with Wickedy Wak, at a Melbourne appearance orchestrated to draw the big names in rock.  Sharing the audience at Bertie’s Disco with Daryl Sambell and Jeff Joseph, The Valentines, the rest of Zoot and future bandmates Russell Morris and Ronnie Burns, Cotton watched Rick take the stage and says that his immediate reaction was that he would be great to be in a band with.

Zoot had been seeking to replace classical guitarist Roger Hicks with someone who was a better match for the band.  Joseph says they knew it wasn’t going to be easy to find someone with the flair and image they were looking for, but that as soon as he saw Rick perform, he knew he was the guitarist they wanted.  “It was a matter of who got in first,” Joseph says.  “I didn’t waste any time because I knew that if I didn’t do something then and there, that night, we were going to lose him.”  The band seemed to be in perfect agreement on that issue.  Cotton says, “For me, no one else was ever in the running, because I was a fan.”

Zoot wasn’t alone in its quest for Rick’s services.  According to Beeb Birtles, “The Valentines were also in hot pursuit, and Zoot were desperate to get him in our band because of his showmanship.”  The Brisbane Avengers also made a pitch for Rick to join them and, ironically, when they lost that battle the Avengers hired ex-Zoot guitarist Roger Hicks.

The collaboration was a positive one for Rick and for Zoot.  The Valentines, with their plethora of lead singers, would not have allowed Rick the opportunities to spread his musical wings that he found with Zoot.

As Zoot had hoped, Rick helped to steer the band in a new direction.  Cotton says, “[Rick] gave it an edge, a much more aggressive style…basically, what he did was help us achieve the direction we’d been heading in.”  Joseph says that Rick was also “the initial driving force in the writing component of the band.”  Although both Beeb and Darryl would ultimately prove themselves accomplished songwriters, prior to Rick’s arrival Zoot had been recording songs by other, established writers.

Rick began to write the majority of Zoot’s songs, and his first single for the band, “Hey Pinky,” blatantly mocked the earlier “think pink” image.  The music, too, was different—harder and more guitar-driven.  In case the new style of music wasn’t enough to get the point across to the public, early in 1970 Zoot ceremonially burned their pink jumpsuits in a 44-gallon drum on the live television program Happening 70.

According to Zoot fan club president Maria Gibbs, “there was a lot of resentment by the fans when Rick joined Zoot.”  Although Roger Hicks was something of a loner, both onstage and after the shows, fans didn’t want to see the familiar line-up disturbed.  However, Maria says, “Their music really started to change for the better.  They got away from that real ‘bubblegum’ sound and image.  Rick started to become very popular…”

Music critics credited Rick with giving Zoot direction, and with infusing creativity into a band that already had everything else going for it.  Years later, Al Webb, writing for Juke, would refer to Rick as “The kid who took Zoot from bubblegum to heavy rock.”

The band’s structure during live performances also shifted with Rick on the guitar.  He replaced a guitarist who was his polar opposite—a classical guitarist, slight in stature and with no taste for showmanship. For Rick, though, there was more to a musical performance than just playing the guitar.  Rather than using a standard guitar strap, Rick designed his own strap, attached with Velcro, to give him freedom of movement and the ability to swing and even throw his guitar.  He and lead singer Darryl Cotton came to comprise the “front line” of the band, with bassist Beeb Birtles and drummer Rick Brewer staying more in the background. Joseph says, “It was never intended or planned, it was just his way of working.  Off stage, he was a shy person, but put him on stage and he was like an animal.”

In 1970, Zoot…
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